Applying for business school is a complex process, and Forté wants to see you succeed. We compiled this list of resources to give you an overview of the MBA application process — and we can help in other ways, too.
- If you’re a woman considering an MBA, the Forté MBA Forums are a great place to start. These free events are an opportunity to explore the value of an MBA and make connections with admissions reps, alumnae, and students from top business schools.
- Are you looking for a structured approach to the MBA application process? Consider applying for Forté MBALaunch, a 10-month program that pairs women seeking an MBA with a support network and provides a structured roadmap for applying to business schools.
- Watch Forté’s free MBA prep webinars with experts across industries and functions, covering a range of MBA application and career-boosting topics.
- Explore more of Forte’s resources for MBA candidates and students.
MBA Application Components
Ready to start working on your business school application? Give yourself plenty of time to gather the required materials. Individual schools’ requirements may vary, but here’s what you’ll need for a typical MBA application:
Submit official transcripts from each institution at which you studied. Each transcript should contain a complete record of your studies to date at that institution, including the subjects taken and grades earned.
While the admissions committee may spend only a few seconds reviewing it, your business school resume is crucial in creating a first impression of you as a person, employee, and potential business school student.
- Provide details of your accomplishments, responsibilities, and contributions.
- Where possible, use concrete numbers to demonstrate achievement.
- Show how you have demonstrated leadership.
- Include your strongest work at the top of your resume.
- Be sure to highlight non-work related activities such as community service, campus leadership, and special honors you've received.
Letters of Recommendation
You will need to submit at least two professional letters of recommendation from people who have supervised your work and/or assessed your performance during your career.
- Choose people who know you well and will take the time to write thorough, detailed letters that demonstrate your leadership potential and personal qualities. Schools are impressed by what the letter says and how it reads, not by the recommender’s title or native language.
- Promote yourself to your recommenders. Remind them of your accomplishments and share your vision for your career and how an MBA fits into it. This way, they can include specific examples that illustrate your potential.
Although many schools change their essay questions from year to year, reading a prior year's application will give you an idea of the types of stories you will need. Most schools share the previous year's essay questions on their admissions site. At their core, MBA application essay questions are designed to elicit a fundamental set of information — why you need an MBA, why now, and why from us? Take time for self-reflection before you start writing. The admissions committee is looking for evidence of your professional maturity as shown by your clarity of purpose.
Many schools allow you to submit an "optional" essay. This is the perfect vehicle for explaining any major weaknesses (low GPA, low GMAT score, gaps in work experience). You can also use the optional essay to highlight a strength in your candidacy that isn’t featured elsewhere in your application materials. While it's easy to highlight your accomplishments, this is a great opportunity to acknowledge your shortcomings, provide context for them, and demonstrate how you've worked to overcome them.
Most business schools require an interview as part of the admissions process. You will either be invited to interview after you submit your application, or some schools allow you to request an interview.
- Much like the essay questions, the admissions interview will likely focus on why you want an MBA, what you plan to do with your degree, why you want to attend that particular school, and whether the school is a good fit. While the interview is a way for the admissions committee to glean more information about you as a candidate, it also gives you an opportunity to learn more about the school.
- In addition to your elevator pitch, come prepared with thoughtful questions. Instead of asking something you could easily answer by doing a little research, focus on questions that could affect your experience as a student and what you hope to achieve.
- After an interview, it’s important to follow up with a thank you letter. This demonstrates your professionalism and can act as a reinforcement of your qualifications. Be brief, but specific and sincere.
Taking the GMAT
Taking the GMAT might be the most nerve-wracking part of the business school application process, but don’t panic. To be sure you’re prepared, plan ahead and start studying for the GMAT early.
About the Test
The GMAT is offered year round and on demand in test centers around the world. The test takes just under three and a half hours, and includes four timed sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment (30 minutes, 1 essay) - Measures your ability to think critically and communicate your ideas. You will analyze the reasoning behind a given argument and write an essay critiquing that argument. You are not being asked to present your own views on the subject.
- Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes, 12 questions) - Tests how well you synthesize data and evaluate information to solve complex problems. Data will be presented in multiple formats and come from different sources..
- Quantitative Reasoning (62 minutes, 31 multiple-choice questions) - Measures your ability to reason quantitatively, solve quantitative problems, and interpret graphic data. Also known as the "math" section, it requires some knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry.
- Verbal Reasoning (65 minutes, 36 multiple-choice questions) - Focuses on reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and the ability to correct written material to conform to standard written English.
Preparing for the GMAT
Taking practice tests will help you determine your current skill levels and where to focus your study efforts. To mitigate your weaknesses, consider taking one of the many GMAT-prep courses available either online or in a live, group format. Most GMAT test takers start preparing three to six months before the actual test date.
Scores and Reports
Your unofficial score report will be available immediately after the test. Official score reports are available online within 20 days to you and to the programs you requested to receive them. If you’re not satisfied with your score, you can take the test up to five times within a 12-month period.
Scheduling Your Exam
To schedule your exam and learn more about the GMAT, visit MBA.com.
Other Standardized Tests
Although the GMAT is still the most widely accepted standardized test by business schools, many consider additional tests as part of their admissions process.
GRE General Test
The GRE General Test is the only admissions test for graduate or business school that lets you skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and decide which questions within a section you want to answer first. The GRE has three sections:
- The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences, and recognize relationships between words and concepts.
- The Quantitative Reasoning section measures your problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
- The Analytical Writing section measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, and your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.
If English is not your native language and you plan to attend a business school where classes are taught in English, some schools may require you to take the TOEFL iBT. The TOEFL iBT measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks.IELTS
Similar to the TOEFL iBT, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) assesses the English language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is the primary language. The IELTS measures listening, reading, writing and speaking. The speaking test is a face-to-face interview with a certified examiner.
Although it's possible to research MBA programs from home, there is no substitute for meeting the admissions personnel of potential schools face-to-face. Meet them during campus visits, register for a Forté MBA Forum, or attend one of the many MBA fairs.
No matter how much research you've done, the best way to get a feel for the culture is by visiting the campus. You may discover that students are friendly and motivated or that the atmosphere is too competitive and intense. A few questions to keep in mind during your visit:
- Is the campus diverse? Will I meet students from many different backgrounds?
- Is this a place where I feel comfortable?
- What type of success are alumni enjoying?
If possible, set up times to meet with faculty and sit in on MBA courses in your area of interest. As you visit schools during your MBA application process, take notes to help you remember what you like best about each school. Bring business cards to share, and prepare questions before each event you attend.
If the business school is in a location that’s new to you, familiarize yourself with the area and think about where you may want to live. If you're considering schools far from your current location, visiting campuses may be challenging. When you consider the time, expense, and potential benefits of choosing the right program, you’ll want to make absolutely certain you're finding the best fit.
How Do You Decide Where to Apply?
You've read the catalogs and you've done your online research, but which MBA programs are the best fit for you? Narrowing the list can be a stressful process, but here are a few strategies to make the task more manageable.
- Consider the big picture. An MBA program is more than its campus and its classes. What's the job market like near the schools you're considering? Where do students get internships? What types of companies recruit at those schools? Where have former graduates recently accepted jobs?
- Research the statistics. You want your MBA to give you a leg-up on your competition in the business world. Find out: Is the program respected in the region where you hope to make your career? Are students and graduates positive about their MBA experience? Is the faculty well-connected? Do companies that interest you recruit there?
- Consider your decision's impact on your family and your lifestyle. You want to pursue your education, but you also want your partner to be happy. If you're relocating, will he or she be able to find a job in the area? Is there a school-run organization that supports partners of students? Take an honest look at your schedule. Can you balance your studies with your other obligations?
- Ask questions. Current students are a great resource, because they’ll be candid if there are problems. How rigorous is the program? Are class schedules convenient? What's the grading system like? Is it A, B, C, or Pass/Fail? Is there grade non-disclosure?
After You've Applied
After you've submitted your business school application, you can generally expect to be notified of their decision about three months after the application deadline. Check each school's website for their specific timeframe. The notification will tell you if you've been accepted, waitlisted or denied.
Congratulations, you've been accepted!
After an appropriate celebration, it's time to focus on two things: getting your finances in order and informing your employer of your impending departure. Once you've been admitted, your school will provide you with information on how to finance your MBA, including public and private loans, scholarships, and other types of financial support. Getting your credit in order before applying for loans is crucial, so make sure to get a copy of your credit report and fix any errors prior to beginning the loan application process.
Give your employer the appropriate amount of notice, present your resignation in writing, and explain why you're moving on. Make every effort to be professional, because your network is valuable.
You're on the waitlist.
Don't panic. Being waitlisted does not mean you won't get in. In fact, it means you were qualified and worthy, but one element might have been lacking. What should you do now?
- Understand the type of waitlist. There are two types of waitlists. An opt-out waitlist means that a school automatically puts you on the waitlist unless you ask to be removed. An opt-in waitlist requires that you accept a position on the list, usually within a certain amount of time. If you're still interested in attending the school, you should accept the waitlist offer.
- Ask for an application review. Some programs will let you know why you've been waitlisted. They may even make suggestions for how you can improve your chances of getting off the waitlist and into the program. If your school offers reviews, the waitlist letter will say so. If the letter specifically tells you not to contact them, don't ask. But if they don't say or if the letter is obviously personalized, then feel free to ask for feedback.
- Send additional information. Some schools prohibit sending additional information after you've submitted your application. But if your school allows it and you have an update, consider sending it three to four weeks after you received your waitlist notification. This could include an updated resume reflecting a promotion, a transcript from a recently completed course, an updated GMAT score, a one-page update on recent accomplishments, or a new letter of support.
- Retake tests, if appropriate. If you suspect you were waitlisted because of your GMAT, GRE or other test scores, focus on additional preparation and try to improve your score by retaking the exam.
- Take classes. If a low GPA may have factored into your waitlist status, consider taking additional classes at the local community college to prove you have the intellectual ability and the discipline to do well in a rigorous quantitative curriculum. Good options include accounting, microeconomics, calculus, or statistics.
Dang, you didn't get in.
Yes, it's disappointing, but don't let it devastate you. If possible, seek feedback from the admissions committee on why you didn't make the cut. If you’d like to apply again, develop a plan to overcome any weaknesses in your application package. Schools may look favorably upon re-applicants, as it shows strong interest in the program. You can demonstrate that you've grown, addressed your shortcomings, and are a committed candidate.
Need more help?
Admissions Consultants (Fee for Services)
Some candidates seek the help of experienced professionals for essay editing or MBA application guidance. Many firms offer a free 30-minute session, which can be a useful way to unearth any weaknesses in your candidacy. Check out the full list of AIGAC members.
The following are MBA admissions consultants who provided program content for Forté MBALaunch: